May is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month, so I’m being especially intentional about blogging about food allergies. Specifically, our toddler is allergic to peanuts, cashews, and chickpeas, so we avoid all nuts.
I like to say that nut allergies affect everything and they affect nothing, all at the same time.
At our house, my nut-allergic son is normal. No special food needed and no special food required. And if you know my two year old, Andrew, you know that he’s a rough and tough little boy with a very sweet and tender side. Despite having a rare lung defect that required the removal of half a lung as a newborn, and despite food allergies that can be fatal, he truly is a normal boy. He loves cars, trucks, trains, and playing with any type of ball. He looks like he’ll be a little linebacker one day.
So at home, nut allergies mean next to nothing. We wish it were that way outside of our home too. But we’ve had to come to terms with the idea that too many products are made in the same factories as nut products, and our world is full of people who just ate a peanut butter sandwich and didn’t wash their hands.
So how exactly have nut allergies affected our family?
Our grocery bill increased significantly.
Remember “the rules” of living with nut allergies? In order to avoid products that contain, may contain, or are processed with nuts, we have to be brand loyal. We often cannot purchase store brands because in order to make their products cheaply, they process many things together, including nuts.
Grocery shopping takes longer.
I have to check every label every time, and when you add 3 little kids to that equation, it can be a headache to get through the grocery store.
Eating out becomes a hassle.
Not every restaurant is accommodating to food allergies, so we tend to stick with a couple of favorite restaurants and avoid the others. I’ve learned to ask lots of questions so that I can be sure that our meal is safe for our son. The one time I didn’t, I had a bit of an anxiety attack the car and my husband had to work hard to calm me down. It truly is terrifying to know that food can kill your baby, but information can be empowering.
Vacations are a chore instead of a break.
Where can we eat? is always the big question. When we went to DisneyWorld, I packed half a suitcase full of snacks that were safe for my toddler, so that we would never be without food for him. And you don’t even want to know the challenges of flying with a child who has nut allergies. I’ll save that for a future blog post.
Parties and pot lucks can cause a small panic attack.
I always pack a safe cupcake for my son, but then I have to worry about the other children. Did they wash their hands after they ate their cake, or are they walking around with chocolatey fingers, potentially a chocolate that contains nuts? What food is being served? What brand of hot dog buns are those? And please don’t let the toddler grab that bowl of peanuts! Yes, I’ve been known to move food around just to keep my child safe. My husband and I take turns eating and watching our son in these situations, because someone has to be on guard at all times.
I have become a baker, not by choice, but by circumstances.
If I want my kids to have cute birthday cakes or enjoy a yummy dessert, I need to learn to make it myself. I’ve learned all about sugar sheets, how to make and roll out fondant, and how to make my own frosting. Piping the frosting is still a big challenge for me, but I’m learning.
I can’t leave my kids with just anyone.
I’m cautious with babysitters, but I also know that our house is safe, so there’s little chance of an allergic reaction occurring. But if mommy needs a haircut, a dental appointment, or a last minute trip to the doctor, I can’t just drop the kids off with a friend unless I know that she truly understands nut allergies.
I usually bring the kids with me everywhere, and I’ve even asked my husband to take off work. When I can, I leave the kids with a friend whose son has nut allergies, since I can be completely sure that he’s safe there. After my third baby was born, one friend insisted on keeping the kids for me one morning, and she also insisted that I educate her on nut allergies. A few emails later, she was completely up on the issue, and as a pediatric nurse, I was confident that she could administer the EpiPen safely if needed. But these types of friends are rare, and I really do thank God for friends who understand. Most people do not.
During my last pregnancy, 24 hours of steady vomiting left me very dehydrated, and while I knew I probably needed to go to the hospital, I truly could not think of a place where I could safely leave my son. I ended up staying in bed and self-hydrating for a couple of days. I should’ve called someone, but my brain was too foggy to figure it out. Childcare is a challenge with nut allergies.
I have become that mother.
You know the one. The one that people think is just a little neurotic, the one that people say is overly cautious because she won’t let her child eat a cupcake. That mother. I don’t want to be her, but I have to be. Unless I know that you used a safe cupcake mix and that your cookies were made with Hershey’s chocolate and safe vanilla, then I just can’t let him eat it. It’s not worth the gamble.